31 August 2008

R. G. Frey on Animal Suffering

My view, then, is not that which it has often been taken to be in discussion and which Singer, Regan, Clark, and others blast in their work; I am not suggesting that, because they lack language, animals can be factory farmed without suffering. Animals can suffer, which they could not unless they were conscious; so they are conscious. Nothing I have said in earlier chapters and nothing I will say in subsequent chapters is intended to deny this fact, which animal rightists correctly insist upon. But animals lack that reflective awareness which enables us to see our experiences and acts as our own (and thereby, of course, unlike animals, to be responsible for our acts).

(R. G. Frey, Interests and Rights: The Case Against Animals [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980], 109 [italics in original; footnote omitted])

Note from KBJ: Who thinks, much less argues, that animals are responsible for their acts? Animals are moral patients, but not moral agents. Like children, they can be wronged but cannot wrong. Nor does it follow from the fact that animals are not moral agents that they cannot have rights. There are two types of rights: autonomy-rights and welfare-rights. You and I have both. Animals have only welfare-rights, the most important of which is the right not to be made to suffer.

30 August 2008

Creature Talk

Here is a blog for your consideration. I will add it to the blogroll.

29 August 2008

Michael Lockwood on Utilitarianism

The great strength of a pure utilitarianism, whether it be couched in terms of the maximization of aggregate happiness, on the one hand, or of desire satisfaction, on the other, is its unity, its capacity to adjudicate non-arbitrarily between all competing moral claims. Once one allows a multiplicity of first principles, with resulting internal trade-offs, this strength is lost; and moreover, it becomes more difficult to offer convincing, principled resistance to those who would have one believe that the moral universe is a veritable jungle of diverse and independent principles and demands, of perhaps inexhaustible complexity.

(Michael Lockwood, "Singer on Killing and the Preference for Life," Inquiry 22 [summer 1979]: 157-70, at 158)

27 August 2008

John Rodman on Dolphinic Wisdom

I. Original Sin. Religious man separated himself from God and was driven from the garden for his pretension. Philosophic man, also in quest of short-cut wisdom, separated himself from the rest of nature, which is its own punishment. Thus Socrates turned his back on the great speculations about the nature of the universe and focused his whole attention on "the good for man". Twenty centuries later men lament that they pursue loneliness, and that their morals and politics lag dangerously behind their natural science. Perhaps the good for man cannot be comprehended out of the context of a universal good in which man shares.

2. True Irrationality. Man, said the ancient philosophers, is a rational animal. Animal: genus; common denominator of man and beast. Rational: species; the principle distinguishing man from beast. Assume the distinction to be valid, and ask the following question. If you and I have certain qualities in common and certain qualities in difference, is it obvious that I (or you) ought to live so as to maximize the qualities that distinguish us? Classical philosophy, from Socrates on, is based on a choice, and that choice is arbitrary: it is not made in accordance with any general principle that is self-evident, nor is it deducible from another principle that is in turn self-evident. The reductio ad absurdum of the classical choice is modern "individualism" in its "Romantic" form—the cult of individual eccentricity. Classical thought stopped short of that, of course. But why? The preference for differentiation at the species level is an unjustified presupposition of the philosophic tradition.

3. Waiting. Once before, around the time of Plato and Aristotle, the dolphins began tentatively to approach man. But first philosophers, then religious men, turned their backs on us in disinterest or hostility, and we retreated into the depths of the sea to await a better time. Now men in desperation voyage into outer space, searching far-off planets for signs of intelligent, non-human life. We wait and wonder whether man is ready.

4. Transcendence. In the lore of the dolphins it is recorded that at some moment in time a few individual human beings will break through to a new, transhuman level of consciousness, will become true philosophers comprehending the whole in all its parts, and will quietly leave the city of man and make contact with the dolphins. There are several versions of this legend. In one, the philosophers join the dolphins and never return. In another, they return out of a sense of duty to bring the good news to their fellow men and are imprisoned in lunatic asylums. In a third, they join forces with the dolphins, execute a bloodless coup d'état, and establish their benign and pacific rule over the rest of the animals (both human and other). In a fourth, the philosophers and the dolphins lead a bloody insurrection of all the beasts, smash all machines, and eliminate the human race as irredeemably depraved and dangerous to the planet.

(John Rodman, "The Dolphin Papers," The North American Review 259 [spring 1974]: 13-26, at 26)

25 August 2008

Animal Companions

Should we keep pets? Here is a website with opposing answers.

24 August 2008

John Passmore (1914-2004) on Animal Suffering

Neither Aquinas nor Kant nor Newman denied, however, that animals could suffer: Descartes and Malebranche thought differently. It is impossible, they argued, to be cruel to animals, since animals are incapable of feeling. They lack not only—as Aquinas had followed Aristotle in arguing—a rational soul but even that sensitive soul which both Aristotle and Aquinas had allowed them. To suppose that animals could feel would be to suggest that there could be pain and suffering where there has been no sin. For animals did not eat of the Forbidden Tree. "Being innocent," Malebranche writes, "if they were capable of feeling, the effect would be that under the government of an infinitely just and all-powerful God an innocent creature would suffer pain, which is a penalty, and the punishment of some sin." The only possible conclusion, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, is that animals cannot feel. "They eat without pleasure," Malebranche therefore tells us, "they cry without sorrow . . . , they desire nothing, they fear nothing, they know nothing." (The Stoic Chrysippus, it is worth noting, had also suggested that animals do not feel but only "as it were" feel.) What we hear as a cry of pain is of no more significance than the creaking of a machine. An organ, the Cartesian Rouhault argues, makes more noise when I play it than an animal when it cries out, yet we do not ascribe feelings to the organ.

These teachings, it should be observed, were more than metaphysical speculations. They had a direct effect on seventeenth-century behavior as manifested, for example, in the popularity of public vivisections, not as an aid to scientific discovery but simply as a technical display. "They administered beatings to dogs with perfect indifference," so La Fontaine, a contemporary observer, tells us, "and made fun of those who pitied the creatures as if they had felt pain. . . . They nailed poor animals up on boards by their four paws to vivisect them and see the circulation of the blood which was a great subject of conversation."

(John Passmore, "The Treatment of Animals," Journal of the History of Ideas 36 [April-June 1975]: 195-218, at 204 [italics in original; footnotes omitted])

18 August 2008


Here is an interesting blog post about so-called animal-rights terrorism.

17 August 2008

Henry S. Salt (1851-1939) on "Humane Slaughter"

The plea that animals might be killed painlessly is a very common one with flesh-eaters, but it must be pointed out that what-might-be can afford no exemption from moral responsibility for what-is. By all means let us reform the system of butchery as far as it can be reformed, that is, by the total abolition of those foul dens of torture known as "private slaughter-houses," and by the substitution of municipal abattoirs, equipped with the best modern appliances, and under efficient supervision; for there is no doubt that the sum of animal suffering may thus be greatly lessened. There will be no opposition from the vegetarian side to such reform as this; indeed, it is in a large measure through the personal efforts of Vegetarians that the subject has attracted attention, whereas the very people who make this prospective improvement an excuse for their present flesh-diet are seldom observed to be doing anything practical to carry it into effect. But when all is said and done, it remains true that the reform of the slaughter-house is at best a palliative, a temporary measure which will mitigate, but cannot possibly amend, the horrors of butchery; for it is but too evident that, under our complex civilisation, when the town is so far aloof from the country, and pastoralism can only be carried on in districts remote from the busy crowded centres, it is impossible to transport and slaughter vast numbers of large and highly sensitive animals in a really humane manner. More barbarous, or less barbarous, such slaughtering may undoubtedly be, according to the methods employed, but the "humane" slaughtering, so much bepraised of the sophist, is an impossibility in fact and a contradiction in terms.

(Henry S. Salt, The Logic of Vegetarianism: Essays and Dialogues [London: The Ideal Publishing Union, 1899], 51-2 [italics in original])

13 August 2008

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld writes about the horrors of a kosher slaughterhouse where “news reports and government documents have described abusive practices.” But he says almost nothing about reports of how badly the animals were treated there.

Religious slaughter is still slaughter.

Gretchen Berger
New York, Aug. 6, 2008

11 August 2008

M. P. Golding on Animal Rights

One aspect of the question of whether animals have rights may now be treated. If animals have rights, then these are welfare rather than option-rights. My pet turtle does not exercise, at his option, any rights over itself, things, or people. We can now see why some philosophers (who admit duties in respect of animals) have denied that animals have rights: such denials rest upon identifying or connecting, in an essential way, having rights with having option-rights. Some philosophers admit rights only for beings who are capable of choice, and this is reflected in definitions of 'rights' as 'ranges of action' or 'spheres of autonomy'. If this be pressed, one must also deny that the incapacitated and the senile have rights, and must be hesitant before admitting that children have rights. However, we do speak of the rights of such persons—their welfare-rights. They have a claim to some of the goods of life under the social ideal, although others must make claims for them, when necessary. Whether animals have welfare-rights depends upon the very perplexing question, which I shall not discuss, of their inclusion in the community and their relation to the social ideal. It may also be the case that their rights (if they have any) are, because of the nature of their interests, so insignificant in comparison with those of humans that they hardly deserve the appellation.

(M. P. Golding, "Towards a Theory of Human Rights," The Monist 52 [October 1968]: 521-49, at 545-6 [italics in original; footnotes omitted])

Note from KBJ: Is an animal (i.e., a nonhuman animal) the sort of being that can have rights? It depends on what a right is! Golding is pointing out that there are two conceptions of a right. One conception links rights to autonomy or self-governance (he calls these "option-rights"); the other links rights to welfare or well-being (he calls these "welfare-rights"). If no animal is autonomous, then no animal can have, and therefore no animal does have, an option-right. But it doesn't follow that no animal can have a welfare-right! Those of us who affirm that animals have rights are conceiving of rights as welfare-rights. Those who deny that animals have rights are conceiving of rights as option-rights. Both of us can be right! Indeed, I would argue that both of us are right.

08 August 2008

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

The recent terrorist attacks on scientists (“Firebombings at Homes of 2 California Researchers,” news article, Aug. 4) are abhorrent acts condemned by the vast majority of animal advocates and the organizations who represent them, including the National Anti-Vivisection Society.

Violence, threats of violence, destruction of property and harassment are justifiably considered criminal acts no matter how worthy the cause for which they are perpetrated. Compassion for animals cannot be achieved by violence. Respect for animals cannot be coerced by threats. And justice for animals will never be achieved through criminal acts.

It is our job as advocates for animals to promote the ethical and scientific arguments that advance science without harming animals—within the parameters of a democratic process in which the truth, not violence, prevails.

Peggy Cunniff
Executive Director
National Anti-Vivisection Society
Chicago, Aug. 5, 2008

Note from KBJ: Well put! I have said this many times, but I'll say it again: I can't think of anything that harms animals as much as violence in their behalf. Those of us who care about animals and wish to change how they are treated must condemn these violent acts in the strongest possible terms. The creeps in question should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

06 August 2008

Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys

Here is a New York Times story about a vegetarian restaurant in (of all places) France.

04 August 2008

"Animal Rights Terrorism"

I leave you this fine evening with a column by Debra Saunders. For the record, I am opposed to violence in behalf of animals. I can't think of anything that does more harm to the cause of animal liberation. In the long run, the best thing we can do for animals is engage in rational persuasion. That means patiently showing people—one at a time, if necessary—that their own values commit them to changing the way they treat animals. You might wonder how this could work. If their own values commit them to changing the way they treat animals, why haven't they changed the way they treat animals? The answer is that not everyone has thought through the implications of his or her values. Philosophers are trained to do this. Their only tool is the law of noncontradiction, which says that no proposition can be both true and false. If I can show you that one of your moral principles entails that it's wrong to eat meat, then, to avoid contradiction, you must either abandon the principle or abstain from meat. If you're unwilling to abandon the principle, then you must abstain from meat. Here is a brilliant example of this approach.

Ethical Beauty

Here is a website for your consideration.

02 August 2008

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “A Farm Boy Reflects” (column, July 31):

Hats off to Nicholas D. Kristof, who takes note of the trend represented by the animal welfare proposition on the ballot in California this fall.

While this legislation would be an important step in transforming inhumane animal production, we must also call for change on the federal level, where the farm bill subsidizes this sector to the tune of billions of dollars.

In the past decade, for instance, we have doled out more than $3 billion in direct subsidies to large-scale livestock producers. And thanks to federal corn and soybean subsidies, factory farms saved an estimated $3.9 billion a year between 1997 and 2005, totaling nearly $35 billion, according to researchers at the Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts University.

It’s time that our tax dollars no longer finance the inhumane conditions—for workers and animals and the climate—of factory farms.

Anna Lappé
Brooklyn, July 31, 2008
The writer is a co-founder of the Small Planet Institute.

To the Editor:

Nicholas D. Kristof’s column broke my heart. As a recent convert to vegetarianism, I found that it reinforced my feeling that the eating of living, thinking, emotional creatures is just plain wrong.

The fact that geese mate for life, and that the mate of the poor goose that was slaughtered would step forward, was enough to make me swear off meat forever, if I hadn’t already.

As a country, we place so little value on the creatures that give up their lives to satisfy our hunger. Since our food is delivered to us on a bun or in big bags of frozen parts, it’s easy to eat it and not think about what it was or how it was killed.

If people had to see what these animals are subjected to or take an active role in their deaths, I believe many more people would think before they eat. Unfortunately, that is unlikely to happen any time soon.

We pay lip service to more humane treatment of the animals that we eat, but how many of us look beyond the label on the package of chicken cutlets?

Bernard Burlew
New York, July 31, 2008

To the Editor:

While I am grateful for Nicholas D. Kristof’s thoughtful exploration of animal rights, I was astonished to read that he continues to eat animals, like geese and pigs, for which he obviously has such affection and respect.

Doesn’t he realize that he does not have to engage in this voluntary activity, which causes moral conflict for himself and suffering for the animals?

Mr. Kristof is attuned to issues of human suffering and injustice. I hope he also knows that choosing a meat-based diet contributes to environmental devastation, involves a disproportionate use of the earth’s resources and causes untold health problems.

I encourage him, and everyone who has been moved by his reflective column, to try going vegetarian full or part time, and dig into a plate of something more delicious, more compassionate and more healthy for us all.

Susan Beal
Brooklyn, July 31, 2008

To the Editor:

Nicholas D. Kristof wants animals to be raised for human consumption in the kind and generous manner of his boyhood farm, a way that certainly seems nicer to the animals than mean ol’ modern industrial-style farming.

But one consequence that Mr. Kristof doesn’t note is that meat prices would certainly be substantially higher. And for poor people, higher prices would mean less meat in their diets.

While the comfortably affluent always seem to prefer archaic forms of production and commerce, such as that to be found in a quaint Vermont (or Oregon) village, those of us who live in the real world understand that efficiency and productivity, as well as trade, are what make life better for the vast majority of people in the world.

Mark Nuckols
Moscow, July 31, 2008

To the Editor:

Nicholas D. Kristof’s column has been haunting me since I read it. I imagine my own horror if my husband were to be brutally taken from me and slaughtered after our years of caring for each other and sharing our lives.

We empathize with our fellow humans when they endure mental or physical torture and condemn the cruel barbarians that inflict it.

We know that animals suffer as well. It would be a testament to our humanity if we could at least acknowledge that fact and show some kindness toward the creatures that we imprison to feed our appetites.

Maybe someday our legislators in New York will have the courage to follow in the footsteps of the states Mr. Kristof mentions. I look forward to casting my vote for compassion.

Janet Treadaway
New York, July 31, 2008

To the Editor:

I, too, am a farm boy. I grew up on a dairy and hog farm in central Massachusetts. Although we knew that our animals were destined for the tables of America, we were taught by our parents to respect and provide them with creature comfort while they were in our care.

I have visited many of the grotesque factory farms that now corrupt our rural landscapes. Government animal rights regulations may help. But compassion and civil sense from the large farm entrepreneurs might be more helpful.

Jules L Garel
Columbus, Ohio, July 31, 2008

01 August 2008

J. Baird Callicott on Misanthropy

Some indication of the genuinely biocentric value orientation of ethical environmentalism is indicated in what otherwise might appear to be gratuitous misanthropy. The biospheric perspective does not exempt Homo sapiens from moral evaluation in relation to the well-being of the community of nature taken as a whole. The preciousness of individual deer, as of any other specimen, is inversely proportional to the population of the species. Environmentalists, however reluctantly and painfully, do not omit to apply the same logic to their own kind. As omnivores, the population of human beings should, perhaps, be roughly twice that of bears, allowing for differences of size. A global population of more than four billion persons and showing no signs of an orderly decline presents an alarming prospect to humanists, but it is at present a global disaster (the more per capita prosperity, indeed, the more disastrous it appears) for the biotic community. If the land ethic were only a means of managing nature for the sake of man, misleadingly phrased in moral terminology, then man would be considered as having an ultimate value essentially different from that of his "resources." The extent of misanthropy in modern environmentalism thus may be taken as a measure of the degree to which it is biocentric. Edward Abbey in his enormously popular Desert Solitaire bluntly states that he would sooner shoot a man than a snake. Abbey may not be simply depraved; this is perhaps only his way of dramatically making the point that the human population has become so disproportionate from the biological point of view that if one had to choose between a specimen of Homo sapiens and a specimem [sic] of a rare even if unattractive species, the choice would be moot.

(J. Baird Callicott, "Animal Liberation: A Triangular Affair," Environmental Ethics 2 [winter 1980]: 311-38, at 326 [ footnote omitted])